Shiny and gold, adorned by a thin, metallic crown, a satin cord looped through the clasp at the top. It was just a little too big for her small hands, but if she stood on her tippy, tippy toes she knew she could hang it in just . . . exactly the right . . . place . . .
The sound of shattered glass echoed in the room as the ornament exploded into dozens of pieces at her feet. With tears in her eyes, she looked up into the face of the older woman, wishing someone else had dropped the ball. Her grandmother, a veteran of many Christmases and even more decorations fallen victim to gravity, gathered her granddaughter in her arms, gave laughter as consolation, and whispered in the little girl’s ear, “Don’t worry. It happens all the time. Let’s just pick up the pieces.”
The middle aged wife stood staring out the window a week before Christmas, and watched him drive away. He lied. He left. She was alone, the fragments of her heart lying on the floor at her feet. It happens all the time, she thought. But today there was no one to help pick up the pieces.
Seated bedside by the love of his life, he watched helplessly as she slipped out of his grasp, one breath at a time. It would be the first Christmas he’d ever spent without her. His pragmatic side reminded him that it happens all the time. But this time he was the one whose life lay in pieces.
She kept the secret for years, until courage overtook fear, and a little girl’s voice was finally heard. “You’re free now,” some said. It was true. And it wasn’t. Like a window into her past had exploded in her face, now she dealt with the wounds, one piece of glass at a time, usually when she was alone. Still, it was a common story, even at Christmas. It happens all the time.
The crooner sings that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But for many, it is not. If only Santa really did visit every little boy and girl, instead of skipping over the houses where hunger rules. If only hospitals went bankrupt for lack of business, especially each December. If only suffering would leave us all alone at Christmas.
Perhaps if we chose not to love. To stay safe. Protect our hearts so they’re never broken like a fallen Christmas decoration. What was it C.S. Lewis said? “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” I hate being vulnerable. It means I can’t keep my back to the wall anymore. It means trusting someone else to watch it for me. And that can be terrifying, especially if you have scars because someone once abandoned their watch over you.
“Love anything,” Lewis wrote, “and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” Even if your heart is loved well, cherished like a fragile ornament, there is still great risk in loving—and being loved. The only way to keep your heart intact, he said, is to give it “to no one, not even to an animal . . . avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.” But in that coffin, he warns, while you will have guaranteed your heart will not be broken, it will still change. It will become “unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
Oh, my. Those are choices?
Was it always like this? Meant to be this way? The sovereign plan of a heartless Creator? I assure you, it was not. Suffering was not God’s idea. Neither was isolation. We were meant to reign with Him, our hearts one with His. We are the objects of His intense, extravagant love. If things had gone according to plan—hold onto your hats here—there would never have even been a Christmas.
See, we’re not the only ones who experience suffering. It’s not really fair, either, when you stop to think about it. It wasn’t God’s idea for his perfect creation to collapse right in front of him. He wasn’t the one to dream up arguments and hatred and wars and death. He’s the one who wept at the tomb of his best friend, Lazarus, remember?
The first Christmas was the first step toward the winning back of what was stolen from Him. It wasn’t the kind of plan I would have come up with, but then again, I’m not God. He’s the one who takes weak things—like newborn babes—to confound the mighty—like genocidal kings. But it was a strategy that cost Him everything. By coming down to our level, he entered into our suffering. He is the Man of Sorrows, despised and rejected by mankind, intimately familiar with grief. “In all of their afflictions,” Isaiah wrote, “He was afflicted. And He lifted them and carried them.”
He lifted us? Why would He do that? It was our problem. Our mistake. Our sin. He could have walked away from His failed experiment of humanity, satisfied by the consolation prize of an impersonal universe and the sound of perpetually obedient waterfalls. So why didn’t He just give up on us?
Maybe because Love is never contained.
God risked having His own heart shattered when he became human and identified with us. Did it break? Of course. Why else was Jesus called the Man of Sorrows, intimately familiar with grief? He held nothing back when He came to us in Bethlehem. That’s the real Christmas story—that God “would rather die than live without us.”
I am blown away by the realization that Jesus feels my every sorrow, knows my every heartache, fingers the outlines of my scars, and kisses away every tear that falls. But the only way He could ever do that was by coming down to my level and entering into my suffering with me.
Emmanuel. Every moment, He is God With Us—in joy, in grief, in celebration. He is with us. Picking up the pieces, holding us together, refusing to abandon us.
We’re not accustomed to that. But I assure you, that’s Who God is. That’s how He loves.
It happens all the time.